Missing Rorty

Some smallish pockets of the Web have shared grief at the death of Richard Rorty; not, so far as I can tell, as wide and deep a mourning as lamented the death of his French counterpart, Jacques Derrida. While it’s silly to rank philosophers — as though their value could be weighed out in carats — I’d wish for Prof. Rorty more appreciative response. More to the point, I wish that fewer people were so willing publicly to disdain his standing, as though the nation were overrun with philosophically-minded sales managers, copy editors, and small-animal veterinarians who out-thought Rorty in their free time. Professional standing doesn’t make all the difference in the world, but when one calls into question the institutional discernment of the community of professional peers, one had better bring some strong arguments to the table. Jürgen Habermas, frequent opponent of Rorty on topics philosophical, allowed that “Among contemporary philosophers, I know of none who equalled Rorty in confronting his colleagues – and not only them – over the decades with new perspectives, new insights and new formulations.”

Rorty exemplifies many of the qualities I most cherish in an intellectual, and some that irritate me. In those areas where we part ways, he may (after all) be right; he’s not the only atheist on the block, nor even the smartest, and certainly (thank heaven) not the most derisive. He made one of the strongest arguments for liberal democracy that I can imagine, even as I wince at reverence for the idols of liberalism. Rorty offered the world his greatest gifts: a capacity to diagnose overinflated claims about truth and reality, an appreciation for American philosophers in the strength of their cultural context, an unswerving dedication to justice and “the general welfare.”

I will miss him — as an articulate writer, as a clear-sighted philosopher, as a judicious opponent of theology. I learn discipleship more from challenging intellectual, ethical adversaries than from scornful yea-sayers.

e says:

thank you for posting this. no longer connected to academe, i would not have known.


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